Radio Ga Ga/Tear It Up/It's A Hard Life/Man On The Prowl/Machines (Or Back To Humans)/I Want To Break Free/Keep Passing The Open Windows/Hammer To Fall/Is This The World We Created
"Everybody ran into their frocks" - Freddie Mercury
After two decidedly below-par albums in 1980's The Game and 1982's Hot Space, Queen hit back, hard. Recording in the USA for the first time, the revisited their rock roots but managed to merge it with contemporary radio-friedly "pop"/dance sounds. It was 1984, so the airwaves and recording studios were awash with synthesisers and programmed synth drums. Why, even The Rolling Stones were at it. Where Queen dismally failed on Hot Space, they got it just right on this impressive album.
Music media reaction was much more positive than it had been for Hot Space and Queen's renaissance, that would end with their being "national treasures", began right here. For many fans, this was their first experience of Queen. Their fandom dates back to here, really. After all, it had been nine years since Bohemian Rhapsody. People who were ten then were now nineteen.
After some distinctly ropey songs, Roger Taylor came up with one of his finest compositions for Queen - the synth riff and synchronised handclap dominated perfect pop single, Radio Ga Ga, which melodically railed against the old enemy - the radio. Elvis Costello and The Clash had done so in the new wave years too.
I Want To Break Free was one of bassist John Deacon's best ever Queen songs. Assisted by a now iconic video featuring the band members in full drag and doing the hoovering and ironing, it is perfect in every way. Another excellent guitar solo and an impressive Mercury vocal.
Now, thank the Lord above - Queen in their purest rock form, my favourite persona of the band, are back, and how! A powerful Brian May riff introduces the tour de force of rock that is Hammer To Fall. Mercury's vocal is peerless and a year later the band would storm Live Aid with this. Queen at their very best, in my view. I can never get enough of the song.
Finally, the album ends with Mercury and May's beautifully sad ballad concerning the contemporary news of poverty and starvation in Africa, Is This The World We Created, sung as an encore in their Live Aid set.
A more than convincing album after around seven years of patchy material. Queen phase two now truly begins.
** The b side to Radio Ga Ga was I Go Crazy, a solid, riffy rocker that surely would have fitted in fine on to the album. It rocks breathlessly from beginning to end. Mercury is on great form vocally. The sound on it is a bit tinny, however.
One Vision/A Kind Of Magic/One Year Of Love/Pain Is Close To Pleasure/Friends Will Be Friends/Who Wants To Live Forever/Gimme The Prize/Don't Lose Your Head/Princes Of The Universe
"The album's confused origins made for a somewhat uneven listening experience" - Mark Blake
After Queen's renaissance with 1984's The Works and the triumphant show-stopping Live Aid performance, they were hip again and seemingly could do no wrong. Maybe they got a bit lazy, because this is a typically mid-eighties, patchy album. There is some classic material on this album, don't get me wrong, but there is some questionable stuff too. The sound quality throughout is outstanding on the latest remastering, however. It was originally conceived as a soundtrack album for the 1986 film Highlander, six its songs coming from that concept. As Queen biographer Mark Blake has suggested, it leads to a lack of cohesion in the final album.
Let's be positive and talk about the good ones. One Vision is simply one of my favourite riffy Queen rockers of all time. When Brian May launches into it - wow.
Now on to the less wonderful material. John Deacon's One Year Of Love is not a funk-rock outing, but an eighties-era Elton John-style ballad, redeemed by Mercury's vocal and a deep, resonating bass beat. It also has a late-night, easy-listening saxophone solo. Alright in that type of song, but is this Queen? Surely not! Look, it is pleasant enough, but you have to say Queen had become very middle-of-the-road with material like this.
Gimme The Prize (Kurgan's Theme), one of several tracks from the soundtrack of the afore-mentioned film Highlander, gets things back on track with an excellent, muscular, thumping rocker full of chunky guitar, a classic Brian May solo, samples from the film and a powerful Mercury vocal.
Don't Lose Your Head is an unremarkable synth-rock number from Roger Taylor. Mercury's vocals are typically strong, but the song is similar to the worst ones on Hot Space. Again, what Queen fans see in this is beyond me.
This is not a Queen album I revisit too often. I have to say, though, that listening to it now I have quite enjoyed it, but it certainly is no classic.
Party/Khashoggi's Ship/The Miracle/I Want It All/The Invisible Man/Breakthru/Rain Must Fall/Scandal/My Baby Does Me/Was It All Worth It
"'The Miracle' is a showcase for Freddie Mercury" - Rolling Stone
This was Queen's first album for three years and, although it stands as an example of the band's mid-late eighties material and has the faults that era inevitably brought with it, I actually quite like it (and I am firmly a seventies Queen man).
Roger Taylor blatantly steals the drum intro from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles Going To A Go-Go for the lively, rocking Party. The track is vibrant and fun, full of great guitar, despite some of the synth-y backing at times. It segues straight into Khashoggi's Ship with a supremely heavy riff. This is an underrated Queen rocker. This is Queen rocking as they always should do.
Now begins a run of four great hit singles in a row, the heart of this album - the melodic, Mercury vocal-dominated, inventive and grandiose The Miracle that also features some typical Brian May guitar; the heavy stadium singalong anthem of I Want It All; The Invisible Man which is a stonking slab of Queen rock, with all four members name-checked. Despite its dance-ish rhythm it is infectious and rocks seriously at times; Breakthru is a breathless romp when it eventually kicks in. It is another piece of dance/rock fusion and it works superbly. I love all these tracks.
The quality fades somewhat now, however. Rain Must Fall is a lightweight, limp Deacon-Mercury collaboration. All very pleasant, but pretty unmemorable, really. Nice guitar solo in the middle though. Despite the programmed rhythms on a lot of this album's material, they still manage to fit in some pounding drums and killer Brian May guitar throughout, which is good.
Despite my misgivings of some of Queen's Hot Space material, I feel this album has quite a good, appealing mix. Accepting that Queen had changed somewhat in the eighties, I have to say that as eighties albums go, it isn't a bad one. It is my favourite of their albums from that period.
** There were several non-album tracks around in this period. The b side to I Want It All was a mid-pace, chugging, heavy-ish rocker in Hang On In There. Breakthru had the melodic jazzy Mercury fun of Stealin' as its b side. The Invisible Man gave us the dance-rock of Hijack My Heart which was vaguely in the Another One Bites The Dust mode.
Innuendo/I'm Going Slightly Mad/Headlong/I Can't Live With You/Don't Try So Hard/Ride The Wild Wind/All God's People/These Are The Days Of Our Lives/Delilah/The Hitman/Bijou/The Show Must Go On
"I still love you" - Freddie Mercury
Queen's last album released while the great Freddie Mercury walked the earth, was a solid affair, with many echoes of their heavy-ish rock albums of the mid-seventies.
Innuendo is a lengthy, inventive, almost "prog-rock" in places number, with some excellent heavy bits plus a flamenco guitar part played by Yes's Steve Howe. There are also some bombastic, operatic parts. It is a song that changes mood and vibe many times throughout its nearly seven minutes. It is a superb piece of work, one of the band's last true classics.
Don't Try So Hard is a Mercury piano and vocal ballad, plaintive and melodic. Ride The Wild Wind is one of Roger Taylor's better compositions - an upbeat, rhythmic number with some great guitar underpinning it.
A lot of Queen fans pretty much disown Delilah, a quirky song Freddie wrote about one of his cats. As a cat-lover myself, I have always related to it. Fans will be delighted to hear Hitman next, though, with is powerful chunky riffs. There is a copper-bottomed May guitar solo on it too.
The Show Must Go On is a bombastic stadium-pleaser to end the album. It has actually never been one of my favourites, although I can understand its appeal. Overall, this album has a bit of a feel of the posthumous Made In Heaven about it. Apparently a lot of it was recorded in different bits and then put together, largely due to Mercury's ever-declining health. as good as it is in places, you can sort of tell. As a fulfilled album, I prefer The Miracle.
** The b side of I'm Going Slightly Mad was the sleepy, bluesy groove of Lost Opportunity. It was probably the bluesiest track Queen had done since 1974's See What A Fool I've Been.
Made In Heaven (1995)
It's A Beautiful Day/Made In Heaven/Let Me Live/Mother Love/My Life Has Been Saved/I Was Born To Love You/Heaven For Everyone/Too Much Love Will Kill You/You Don't Fool Me/A Winter's Tale/It's A Beautiful Day (Reprise)
This was Queen-Freddie Mercury's posthumous swansong album, made up of parts of songs recorded by an ailing Mercury in his final months before his passing in November 1991. Not all of the songs date from Mercury's final months, however, as many of them are created from snippets of songs recorded during sessions for earlier albums and Mercury's solo albums. Indeed, it was only A Winter's Tale, Mother Love and You Don't Fool Me that met the first criteria.
Anyway, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon worked on them over subsequent years, along with other previously unused songs, adding new instrumentation. The result is an obviously poignant, but eminently credible album, which many Queen aficionados prefer to its predecessor, Innuendo.
It's A Beautiful Day dated from 1980's sessions for The Game. It is a bit of an ambient creation, made up of Freddie’s strong vocal over an equally powerful orchestration. It doesn’t quite get there, for me, although it serves ok as an opener. Made In Heaven was originally from Mercury's 1985 Mr. Bad Guy solo album and is a grandiose, typically latter-era Queen number that features some classic May guitar.
Let Me Live came from the sessions for 1984's The Works. It had originally been recorded with Rod Stewart. It is a rousing, gospel-backed number that has a few echoes of Somebody To Love. It is my favourite on the album. There is another great May guitar solo to enjoy as well.
Mother Love was Mercury's final vocal performance, and the last song he wrote with Brian May. It has a lovely, laid-back backing, some sumptuous mid-song guitar and a most evocative vocal that is almost too poignant to listen to. Freddie does a great job, though. My Life Has Been Saved was a John Deacon song from 1987. It is a pleasant enough piano-powered, typically-Deacon number. I Was Born To Love You also originally appeared on the Mr. Bad Guy album. It is vibrant, catchy and singalong if not a little showy. Oh ok that’s a bit unfair, it’s great. Ha, ha, ha, it's magic - as Freddie might say.
Heaven For Everyone was easily one of Roger Taylor's best songs, and was written in 1987. It is a really nice song that builds up superbly and is up there with Let Me Live as the best this album gave us. Too Much Love Will Kill You is an incredibly touching song written by May and thought to date from around 1987-88. Freddie’s vocal is so powerful on this one.
Another of my favourites has always been the dance-y groove of You Don't Fool Me, which was one of the last vocals laid down by Mercury. It is in the Queen-funk style.
A Winter's Tale was the last song Freddie Mercury wrote and it is sadly maudlin one, perhaps suitably, but containing some reflective “beauty of the world” lyrics. It’s A Beautiful Day is reprised in heavy Queen style - a throwback to the mid-seventies - including a touch of The Seven Seas Of Rhye that I appreciated.
Although I am very much a “phase one” Queen fan and the material on here is not so much my thing, I can appreciate it and it stands as a fond farewell from a group that left their mark, led by their remarkable, unique singer.
Bohemian Rhapsody: The Soundtrack (2018)
The thing with groups like Queen is that their legacy is so damn good, there will always be multifarious ways of recycling it and long-time fans, like myself and many others, will still enjoy bits of it. However, this exercise seems pretty superfluous to me, musically. Obviously it functions as a movie sountrack, but as regards the musical content, it is a bit here and there, for me. I have all the tracks, and all the live ones apart from the Live Aid ones, so it is those I am interested in, and in the studio tracks which have received some re-tweaking.
So I won’t particularly go through the album track by track, but pick out those tracks which are of interest to me.
At the beginning, it is nice to hear the Twentieth Century Fox Theme with a bit of added Queen guitar. The majestic Somebody To Love, though, seems to be the same to me. The studio tracks are the Bob Ludwig 2011 remasters, which all sound superb, anyway. They are the definitive ones, no need for any further messing around with.
Now, Doing All Right is a song from Queen that I have always liked and I was interested to hear the new remix of it. It is great to hear Tim Staffell “rejoin” on vocals and the new mix has even more of a trippy, dreamy folk-rock feel but thankfully it has kept the heavy guitar and drum part from the middle in it, which sounds sumptuously powerful. I am a “heavy” Queen fan as opposed to a “whimsical” one, as my reviews of all the individual albums state ad nauseam.
The Keep Yourself Alive live recording I already have, but it still good to hear it in isolation. The sound quality and muscularity is excellent. Great bass on it, and drums too. Killer Queen as presented here, has a few additional Brian May guitar bits stapled on rather pointlessly, in my opinion (maybe, although listening to it again, I'm not sure there are any changes) Anyway, I don’t subscribe to the view that May’s tinkering is some insult to Mercury’s memory, however, any more than the remixing of Doing All Right is. On this occasion, I simply don’t think there was any particular need for it.
It is good to have a thumping rocking live version of the lyrically-preposterous Fat Bottomed Girls, as the studio version has always come up short, for me, due to its odd verse/chorus sound imbalances.
We Will Rock You (Movie Mix) is a mix of studio and live versions of the song, which, personally, I can’t really see the point of. Either have it as a studio version or a live one.
Now, the Live Aid material. Because We Will Rock You and Crazy Little Thing Called Love are included in other versions they are not included, which is a shame, as I would have liked the whole performance. It is great to hear the crowd’s cheer as they launch into Radio Ga Ga. Such memories of watching it on the day and my pleasure at seeing my old seventies favourites giving it some. Until that point I had been a bit underwhelmed. After sitting through Nik Kershaw, Paul Young and Howard Jones can you blame me? That Hammer To Fall riff changed all that. What is the quote? Oh yes - “sheer bloody poetry”. Freddie strutting around during this stole the show.
The remixed version of Don't Stop Me Now was included previously on the remaster of Jazz. It is beautifully heavy. Love it.
All in all, I am not quite sure of the point of this, other than its purpose as a soundtrack. “Greatest Hits” type customers will want the actual greatest hits. I guess this is just of interest to completists, to be honest. I have to say that the sound quality throughout the whole album is absolutely top notch.